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Petraeus and Syria

[ 6 ] October 31, 2008 |

I suspect that Eric Martin may be suggesting too much of a distinction here:

ABC News is reporting today that General Petraeus has been pushing for a meeting with Syria’s leadership but the Bush administration has refused…

As Daniel Levy mentioned recently, Petraeus and Pentagon leadership have been pleased with recent overtures from the Syrians, and cautiously optimistic about the potential to build on that cooperation…

But then, despite this progress and the continuation of peace talks between Israel and Syria, the Bush administration went ahead with a cross border raid and airstrikes aimed at targets in Syrian territory. Instead of supporting and expanding the diplomatic process, the Bush administration opted for a show of force.

On Tuesday, Eli Lake wrote:

In July, according to three administration sources, the Bush administration formally gave the military new power to strike terrorist safe havens outside of Iraq and Afghanistan. Before then, a military strike in a country like Syria or Pakistan would have required President Bush’s personal approval. Now, those kinds of strikes in the region can occur at the discretion of the incoming commander of Central Command (Centcomm), General David Petraeus. One intelligence source described the order as institutionalizing the “Chicago Way,” an allusion to Sean Connery’s famous soliloquy about bringing a gun to a knife fight.

Eli is Eli, but this certainly seems plausible to me. If it’s true, then it means that it’s not quite right to say that the Bush administration opted for a show of force in the face of opposition from Petraeus, or least that it may not be true; Petraeus may have ordered the strike himself.

This wouldn’t be altogether surprising. As Spencer notes, Petraeus’ efforts in Iraq have involved alternation between talks and the use of force. And as Eric wrote, airstrikes don’t preclude negotiations. Long story short, I’m not convinced that the airstrike and the negotiation stories are connected in the way that’s being suggested here. It’s not necessarily true that the airstrike represents a rejection by the administration of the diplomatic option that Petraeus apparently wants to pursue. I’m quite willing to believe that the administration and Petraeus disagree about the value of engaging Syria, but the airstrike doesn’t imply that the former is an effort to undercut the latter. As we know from our Schelling, military action is diplomacy; there’s no necessary distinction between the two types of effort.

Rather, I would suggest that the crucial insight here is that the administration is restraining Petraeus from undertaking diplomatic efforts towards Syria, while allowing him to use force. This is not a strategy that is likely to work, and it’s an approach that I expect would change under an Obama administration. We may well still see these kinds of strikes, but I expect they’ll be accompanied by genuine efforts at diplomatic accomodation.

…Erin Simpson has some additional thoughts on the subject.

Revisting Roe’s Status

[ 0 ] October 31, 2008 |

Kay Steiger has an excellent article about how vulnerable Roe is under the current Supreme Court, which quotes yours truly. The bottom line for me remains that the argument that Roe‘s overturn is imminent depends on the belief that Kennedy has changed, and I just don’t think there’s any evidence that he has. To add a couple of points:

  • Leaving aside the question of how “political” we can expect the Court to be, I don’t understand why a politically savvy court would wait until Democrats hostile to their views controlled every branch of the federal government to overturn Roe. I don’t see how it becomes any better for the GOP to overturn Roe explicitly in 2010 than it is now. If anything, a politically savvy Court would have seen 2008 as a likely Democatic year anyway and gotten it over with if it wanted to do it.
  • The idea that Roe would be explicitly overturned also ignores the extent to which Alito and Roberts have gone out of their way to nominally “uphold” precedents they’re not seriously applying. If they’re not willing to explicitly overturn precedents that almost nobody in the general public cares about, they’re certainly not going to be anxious to do so on a high-salience issue where such an outcome would be very unpopular.

None of this is to say that I’m sanguine about women’s access to abortion in this country. It’s important to remember how much damage can be done to abortion access without Roe being overturned. And if a court gets more Republican appointments, that’s a different matter entirely. But the Court as currently configured isn’t going to explicitly announce the overruling of Roe v. Wade.

The way we live now

[ 9 ] October 31, 2008 |

I imagine my own experience with blogging isn’t unusual for someone of my age and background. I think I first heard the word “blog” around 2001 or 2002. I don’t think I started reading any blogs until a year or so after that — Josh Marshall, Billmon, and Sullivan are the first I remember looking at.

But I didn’t start reading them regularly until the fall of 2004 and the presidential campaign. Then I got hooked and the blog world became part of my regular routine.

One thing I don’t have a good sense of is what percentage of politically engaged people are now regular blog readers? Anecdotally it seems very high, but that’s just based on people I know. I suppose there’s lots of data on this, which I’m too lazy to look for before a second cup of coffee.

Anyway the point of this rambling, to the extent it has any, is to wonder what effect the blogosphere has had on the way people think about politics. Surely it has made them (us) better informed in certain ways — I barely looked at the internet for about the past 36 hours because of various commitments, and this morning I was struck by how much sheer information is reported, digested, critiqued, meta-analyzed etc. in that space of time — and maybe its biggest strength is that it has made people much more sophisticated consumers of media as media.

On the other hand Rob’s post below about Thucydides reminds me that one thing this little world of ours seems not to produce much of is the kind of analysis that isn’t driven by the political demands of the moment. This isn’t a Broderesque lament for faux-centerist “non-partisanship.” It’s just a bit of complaining about how too many things in the blog world are instantly transformed into the kind of argument that always seems to be happening between zealots on issues like abortion or Israel/Palestine, where one’s opponents are always a bunch of evil idiots, as opposed to people very much like oneself who just happen to be working from different (non-refutable needless to say) first principles.

Maybe this will change as the medium matures. Didn’t newspapers start out as mostly more or less scandal sheets and tools of libelous invective? (I don’t actually know, but I have a vague impression along those lines). Now a couple of hundred years later we have both the New York Post and the New York Times. For awhile more anyway.

Dude, that’s Harsh

[ 12 ] October 31, 2008 |


Asked by the host whether Palin could step in during a time of crisis, [Lawrence] Eagleburger reverted to sarcasm before leveling the harsh blow.

“It is a very good question,” he said, pausing a few seconds, then adding with a chuckle: “I’m being facetious here. Look, of course not.”

Eagleburger explained: “I don’t think at the moment she is prepared to take over the reigns [sic] of the presidency. I can name for you any number of other vice presidents who were not particularly up to it either. So the question, I think, is can she learn and would she be tough enough under the circumstances if she were asked to become president, heaven forbid that that ever takes place?

“Give her some time in the office and I think the answer would be, she will be [pause] adequate. I can’t say that she would be a genius in the job. But I think she would be enough to get us through a four year… well I hope not… get us through whatever period of time was necessary. And I devoutly hope that it would never be tested.”

Why do Barack Obama and his surrogates have to be so cruel? Obama should call up Larry Eagleburger and say “Thanks, but no thanks for the support you’ve given my campaign thus far.” That’s the only way to deal with out-of-control campaign surrogates who stray off message. Seriously, can you imagine a McCain surrogate saying something like that?

How Can We Forget You if You Won’t Go Away?

[ 28 ] October 31, 2008 |

Shorter Verbatim Bob Kerrey: “Obama understands that to succeed, he must make peace with John McCain just as he has done with Hillary Clinton. When this historic election concludes, I expect the two to sit down, without precondition, and negotiate an agenda of reform.”

Admittedly, I’m not opposed to any such discussion that begins (and ends) with Obama saying “Here’s my offer: nothing. Not even the fee for the gaming license, which I would appreciate if you would sell one of your 13 houses to put up personally.” Students who have watched Kerrey perfect the the all-too-active art of concern trolling will not be surprised to learn, however, that the “reforms” Kerrey seems to have in mind involve Obama agreeing to implement Republican fiscal policies using feeble Republican talking points…

A Simulation

[ 0 ] October 31, 2008 |

We may never get to see the lost Farley/Goldfarb tapes, although I’ve heard rumors of a bootleg annotated by Greil Marcus turning up at Bleeker Street Records. But I assume the missing footage went a little something like this.

A Brief Note

[ 0 ] October 31, 2008 |

Based on personal and other anecdotal experience, I would have to say that SuperShuttle is pretty much the worst thing ever. If I understand correctly, the deal is that you add about four hours on to your travel time to save about six bucks (or, in New York, pay significantly more for something that actually takes significantly longer than public transportation to most places.) I’m permanently inclined to pass…

Easy Answers To Questions Asked By People Inexplicably Entertaining Desperate Hackery

[ 8 ] October 31, 2008 |

John Dickerson:

The McCain campaign is unusually upbeat. Does it have reason to be?

This has been…

In addition to which, since when is it “unusual” for presidential campaigns to be “upbeat?” What do you expect a spin doctor to say? “John, we’re completely screwed. We’d sign for Dukakis’ electoral college tally right now.” These guys are paid to be upbeat.

A Friendly Homecoming for Ted

[ 26 ] October 30, 2008 |

Morons, all of them:

There was undisguised hostility toward the federal government and the FBI at the Stevens event, with people wearing T-shirts that said “F*#@ the feds, vote for Ted.”

“Anyone who thinks you can get a fair trial in the heart of liberalism, Washington, D.C., is smoking dope. He was railroaded,” said Mark Kelliher, a retired engineer.

Talk radio host Rick Rydell told the crowd he knows Stevens, a D.C. jury doesn’t.

“I don’t particularly like it when outsiders tell me what to do,” Rydell said, before Stevens took the stage. “You can kiss my Alaska moose-hunting behind.”

Stevens reiterated his innocence, assured his supporters that he would be vindicated on appeal, and said he’s still the best choice for Alaska. Stevens said that when he filed his financial disclosure forms, he believed they were accurate and complete.

“The verdict was driven by prosecutors who were willing to do anything to win. If I had a fair trial in Alaska, I would have been acquitted,” he said.

I’ve had a difficult time explaining to non-Alaskans lately why it is that Ted Stevens stands a decent chance at being elected as a recently-convicted felon. The polls are still tilting ever so slightly in Mark Begich’s favor, but the last three close elections in Alaska — Frank Murkowski’s win in 2002, Lisa Murkowski’s victory in 2004 and Palin’s win in 2006 — have shown a tendency for Republican candidates to outperform the polls. In those cases, of course, the Republicans were leading heading into election day and emerged with wider margins of victory than expected. I’m not sure how well that trend (such as it is) applies to this race; a lot of Alaskans are embarrassed by Stevens, and his opponent is really competent and popular, so that might be enough. But there’s no way to overstate how solid Ted Stevens’ support is among a vast portion of the state’s population who are quite comfortable with Stevens’ efforts to “spread the wealth” northward from the Lower 48. It’s not difficult to run into people — intelligent, otherwise sensible people — who argue with a straight face and a pure heart that Ted Stevens somehow deserved $250,000 worth of free stuff as a reward for his four decades of service to the state. This is someone who has a international fucking airport named after him.

But sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If Ted Stevens deserves a quarter of a million dollars worth of stuff as a reward for his years of public service, I figure that after six years of hard, underpaid labor on behalf of Alaska’s youth, I at least deserve one of the laser printers that I’m currently sharing with a few dozen of my colleagues.

The Infomercial

[ 10 ] October 30, 2008 |

I was working so have only seen brief excerpts — was it this good? Certainly, Tom Brady is even better than Katarina Witt. (I’m guessing that very few people still wish that Mark Penn was running the Democratic campaign…)

Things that Please Me About the Phillies Win

[ 9 ] October 30, 2008 |

I am pleased that Jamie Moyer will receive a World Series ring. I have no idea how many games I watched Moyer start at Safeco and the Kingdome, but it’s not a small number. I wish it could have happened in 2001, but congrats nevertheless.

I am also pleased that Geoff Jenkins will receive a World Series ring. There’s just something kind of cool about a guy you knew in 3rd grade winning the World Series. Congrats, Jaffo.

Scariest Halloween Display I’ve Seen This Year…

[ 3 ] October 30, 2008 |